WASHINGTON—Two high-ranking U.S. military commanders say U.S. forces are prepared to shoot down any North Korean missile following a planned rocket launch in April.
"We'll be prepared to respond," the top U.S. commander in the Pacific, Adm. Timothy Keating, told a Senate panel.
He cited a "high probability'' that the United States could shoot down a North Korean missile.
I'm sure there's been a lot a contingency planning within the Pentagon."
Bruce Klingner, Heritage Foundation
Gen. Walter Sharp, the U.S. commander in South Korea, urged North Korea not to behave in what he called a "provocative manner."
Sharp said any launch would constitute a "very clear'' violation of a U.N. Security Council resolution.
"The threat,'' he said, "`is real, and it is felt in South Korea,'' where some 28,500 U.S. military personnel are stationed.
The Senate hearing came as Pyongyang reportedly prepares for what many believe will be a long-range missile test in early April. North Korea has alerted global agencies that it plans to launch a satellite between April 4-8.
Bruce Klingner, a Northeast Asia expert at the Heritage Foundation here, cautioned that although the United States is able to shoot down a missile or satellite, "this doesn't necessarily mean that the U.S. will shoot it down."
"I'm sure there's been a lot a contingency planning within the Pentagon," he said in an interview, adding that he would encourage U.S. forces to take action "only if it appears to be a threatening scenario."
Sharp also said North Korea continues to build missiles of "increasing range, lethality, and accuracy'' for sale in Syria and Iran and elsewhere and for its own military.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted unnamed official sources as saying Pyongyang gave notice it expects the first stage of the rocket to splash down in the Sea of Japan and the second stage in the Pacific Ocean.
Pyongyang’s neighbors and Western countries regard the launch as a cover for the testing of a long-range missile that could reach the U.S. mainland.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said such a launch would be “very unhelpful” and that any missile launch, whatever its goal, would violate a U.N. Security Council resolution.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said he is “concerned about the DPRK's [North Korea's] recent move to launch a satellite or long-range missiles.”
"This will threaten the peace and stability in the region,” he said.
Ban urged North Korea to comply with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718, passed unanimously after North Korea's nuclear test in October 2006, and said Pyongyang should not conduct either nuclear tests or ballistic missile launches and should scrap those programs.
Original reporting by Jung-Woo Park for RFA’s Korean service. Korean service director: Francis Huh. Additional reporting by the Associated Press. Edited in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.